By Yuliya Chernova

So many solar technologies emerged from the cradle of semiconductors, that it’s hard to not expect the cost of solar to decline with the same speed as that of chips. Moore’s Law says that the number of transistors on a chip double every two years, causing the price to fall.

solartech_D_20090422132538.jpgAFP/Getty Images

Applied Materials Inc.’s Chief Executive Michael Splinter has a slightly different formula: The cost per watt is reduced by 20% to 30% every time the volume of solar panels produced doubles, he said at the Dow Jones Alternative Energy Innovations conference in Redwood City, Calif., on Tuesday. But even that definition isn’t quite as important, he said, as the push of the government.

“The beauty of Moore’s Law is the tyranny of the urgent,” he said, explaining that everyone in the chip business is always in the cycle to be ready and to fulfill the law.

“We need that forcing function” in solar, he said.

Too often the big wonderful ideals of renewable energy policy are too far fetched and simply too far into the future to change the status quo, Splinter said.

If you are told that you will have to do something by 2025, will you do something about it tomorrow? Splinter asked. “No, you will do absolutely nothing, unless you are in nuclear, where you need to invest today to get an electron in 2020.”

Splinter calls for bold policy with short-term aims. “We need aggressive intermediate goals every two years, with teeth,” he said. Having not just a goal of reaching 25% of renewable energy sourcing in the U.S. by 2025, but setting 5% goals at intervals, that would push the industry forward. That’s “my Moore’s Law” for solar, he said.

For another take on this subject, check out Neal Dikeman’s proposal for a new model that he says understands falling solar cost curves and their impacts. Dikeman, who calls his model the Dikeman Solar Cost Model, is the CEO of Carbonflow Inc. and a partner at investment bank Jane Capital Partners.